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City planning for the next disruptive technology: self-driving cars

Self-driving cars are coming

Stephen Buckley, the General Manager of Transportation Services at the City of Toronto, is no stranger to traffic. Knowing what kind of state the city’s streets are in, he sighs.

“We are the owners, operators and maintainers of the right of way,” he begins.

Coming from the City of Philadelphia, Buckley has transformed the streets of multiple regions over the course of his career in City planning. Since coming to Toronto, he’s seen his role evolve from making the streets safe for cyclists to making the streets operational for driverless vehicles.

On April 19th and 20th, the Conference Board of Canada hosted the “Autonomous Vehicles: Planning the Next Disruptive Technology” conference, where Buckley acted as one of the main speakers.

Along with Barrie Kirk, the executive Director of CAVCOE (the Canadian Automated Vehicle Centre of Excellence), Buckley went on to introduce several scenarios for the implementation of self-driving cars.

However, some distinct differences in the public sector vs. the private sector’s ideas for implementation were presented as the conference unfolded.

According to Antoine Belaieff, the director of regional planning at Metrolinx, it’s imperative that the public sector act on self-driving cars now to ensure that they don’t lost control of something so potentially disruptive.

“[Autonomous vehicles] are neither good nor bad. There’s a lot we can do now, so let’s not wait.
Let’s work together and make sure we’re all at the table.”

Dr. Julia Markovich, Senior Research Associate at the Conference Board of Canada added that while the private sector is leading the development of self-driving cars, there is need for collaboration among industry, the public sector, and members of the public. 

In addition, Kirk stated that in order for driverless vehicles to reach their full potential, they need to be left to develop on their own, without public influence.

“The market is going to determine that,” he said. “Let’s keep the regulations out of this.” He goes on to say that with the full penetration of autonomous vehicles, cities can achieve an 80 per cent reduction in accidents.

However, in Canada, Ontario seems to be leading the initiative behind getting the public ready for self-driving cars. A pilot program was launched in January of this year by the Ministry of Transportation, allowing companies to apply to test autonomous vehicles on Ontario roads.

Furthermore, the City of Toronto has gone on to prepare a divisional working group to mitigate the implementation and the impact of self-driving cars and the possible changes in ownership that may come with it.

Despite the different opinions presented at the conference, every speaker agreed that a lack of preparedness and understanding of this technology is almost ensuring that the impacts are negative rather than positive.

Kirk concludes by saying, “I look back at the 20th century, at how vehicles changed the lives of individuals. In this century, autonomous vehicles will have an impact of equal magnitude on everything we do.”

Source: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/conf/16-0133/default.aspx
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